Le Suchet may be number 19 on the list of the Jura's highest named peaks, but it provided one of the year's most amazing hikes, and views of the Alps. It also marked our 40th Jura peak for 2012.
There are a number of places from where one can commence a hike to the top of Le Suchet - Ste-Croix, Ballaigues and Baulmes among them, but we chose the popular set-off point of Entre le Fourgs (1074m) - which is in France (but right on the border), and about five kilometres west-southwest of Le Suchet (as the crow flies).
We arrived there at about 10am on Christmas eve - for our last Jura summit for 2012 - and parked the car in the car park just beyond the old church in the middle of the town. Although a tiny place, Entre les Fourgs can get quite busy in winter, thanks to a ski lift and ski run right above the town. We tromped across the snow to a yurt - yes, a yurt (not something you expect to see every day in Switzerland), where we sat down and strapped-on our snow shoes.
We were soon on our way, heading southeast straight up the hillside called "Côte Marguiron", just on the eastern flank of the smaller of the town's two téléskis. On our left was the valley of la Jougnena Rau, which provided a great view of Les Aiguilles de Baulmes - number 24 on my list, and yet to be climbed.
We wound our way into the forest, away from "the bustling crowd" and began enjoying the tranquillity that comes from snow-shoeing across beautiful fluffy snow high in the mountains. We passed a small cabin, where we stopped for an obligatory "trail marker" photograph, then headed further-on, up the hillside, rapidly gaining altitude with each step up the steep slope.
The next landmark on the trail was the la Piagrette Chalet farmhouse - now completely snowed-in, shuttered-up and abandoned for winter.
From there we headed due south for a couple of hundred metres - where we encountered an old stone wall that also happens to mark the France-Switzerland border. There are a number of stone markers along the border, and we crossed back into Switzerland just to the west of one of them.
Further down the fence-line is a gateway (which we encountered on our way back later in the day) which has an official border-crossing notice reminding us to have our passport on hand and to declare all goods to the customs officials. We didn't anticipate encountering too many customs and immigration officials in the snow, on a remote mountain trail in winter, on Christmas eve. We had the entire mountainside just about all to ourselves.
We turned due east after passing over the border, now finding ourselves on the main Chemin des Crêtes du Jura mountain trail, and headed up the slope to a small cabin called Petit Bel Coster (1277m). Just near the cottage we crested the top of the ridgeline, which gave us our first views over the main Jura ridge towards the Alps. Despite a bit of haze, Mont Blanc was clearly visible, as indeed were all of the Alps across Lac Léman - all the way along to the Dents du Midi.
The views towards the Alps continued to open-up as we continued on our way, and gained height, up the ridgeline northwest of Petit Bel Coster. Looking back, we also had great views along the peaks of the southern Jura - of Mont d'Or, Dent du Vaulion, Mont Tendre and even La Dole in the far distance. It was classic Jura landscape and scenery.
We were constantly stopping to take-in the magnificent views. We'd been blessed with a gorgeous day, perfect for snow-shoeing in the mountains. So far we'd had a mix of sunshine and cloud, comfortable temperatures, and no wind. Just about perfect. The snow conditions were much the same. Ideal.
We soon reached a place called Grand Bel Coster (1392m) - a summer cattle barn - which was now abandoned, and unreachable, with a huge bank of snow blocking the entrance to its open barn doors. Once again, we stopped just long enough to take a landmark photograph (of the barn), and some more of Mont Blanc and the Alps, then headed on our way. For the first time, up ahead, we could see our final destination - the summit of Le Suchet. We still had a couple of kilometres of snow-shoeing ahead of us, and about 200 metres to ascend.
The trail zig-zagged downhill (groan ... 'cos it meant that we'd have to gain all of that altitude again, which is never much fun), towards a place called La Poyette. Before we got there, we encountered a section of the Toblerone Line (I wrote about it in the blog from Dent de Vaulion - No 49; and see "Trivia" below).
We stopped to take photos and to check-out the topographic map, which I promptly mis-read (thinking that the road sign "La Poyette" that we were standing alongside was the actual place - which was in fact about half a kilometre to our northwest, hidden behind a small hill). So we left the trail and plunged into the forest, making our own trail across fallen logs, snowdrifts, smothered rock walls and the like to the hilltop ... from where we caught sight of the real La Poyette.
We skidded our way down the slope to the homestead (also abandoned now for the winter), where we wandered around, took some more photos, and steeled ourselves for the last "schlep" up the hillside to the mountaintop.
One of the more amusing sights at La Poyette was the family car, which for some reason had been left parked behind the house before the onset of winter, and accompanying snowfalls.
From La Poyette it was all straight uphill to the top. The trail cut through a patch of forest just above the chalet, following first the Toblerone line of concrete blocks, then railway-line spikes driven into the ground, followed by a stone wall and wire fence-line. It would have been hard to get lost now. Once out of the forest, with the sun breaking through again, the views became better than ever. We stopped every hundred metres or so, to catch our breath, and to take-in the magnificent views of the Alps and lakes to the east.
Le Suchet - which means "rocky point" or a rounded hill-top - has two summits, one (at 1554 metres) marked with a cross, and another (at 1588 metres) with a prominent geodetic survey trig station. There was very little snow at the top, or vegetation (it's treeless), which is not surprising really - given the winds that scream over the Jura at this altitude. Most of the Jura's highest summits are bare and wind-blasted. Le Suchet is no exception, covered in little more than stunted sub-alpine vegetation. The wind must have been blowing at about 50 kilometres per hour at least. I read one hiker's account where he thought the wind had been about 100kph. Needless to say, he said he didn't stay long at the top. (Not surprisingly, the ridgeline here is very popular with paragliders in the balmier, calmer, summer months.)
We stopped just long enough for a couple of commemorative pics, and then hastily dragged on our Mammut wind-stopper jackets, beanies and heavier-duty gloves. Then we dashed down into the hollow between the summits to try to find a sheltered place to have lunch. It was now about 1.45pm, three and a half hours after we'd set-out from Entre les Fourgs. We hunkered down behind a rocky outcrop on the western side of the summit, with views out over the Jura ridges that gradually diminished into the distance into France.
Lis remarked on the irony of us having one of the best views in the world just on the other side of the outcrop - where we would have been blasted into hypothermia if we'd been stupid enough to sit there. Hypothermia isn't fun, so we crushed together and ate our cheese sandwiches, and drank our two big thermoses of hot tea. Heavenly, but freezing. So we ate our lunch in record time, and then headed towards the summit. We knew we were heading in the right direction when we came across this trail sign ... mostly buried.
First we had to go downhill again - into a saddle at about 1505 metres - between the two peaks. Amazingly there was almost no wind there. Well "almost" in a relative sense. It was still very strong. We stopped while I took a few photos, and shot a short video, to capture the beauty of the view towards the Alps in the distant east.
From the col, it was a short slog up-hill to the second, higher summit. Recharged from her thermos of hot tea, and conscious of the passing time (we had to get back to the car by dark, on one of the shortest days of the year), Lis led the way. The snow was now increasingly icy, and slippery, making the last few metres particularly hazardous. The slopes on the northwest and southwest side drop steeply, vertically in some places, about 800 metres down onto the plain. Needless to say, we trod carefully.
We were soon standing at the scoured summit, once again being blasted by the terrific winds. I pulled my well-travelled Swiss flag from out of my back-pack, and Lis snapped off a few celebratory photos ... then bolted back down the mountain.
The views were amazing, and I was determined to enjoy them for as long as I could - despite the bitterly cold wind. To the north lay the Baumine valley, and beyond it the marvellous massif and summit of Le Chasseron. To the west was the Jougnena valley and the diminishing Jura ridgelines. To the east ... it was all magic ... lakes (Neuchâtel and Leman), plains and Alps.
I stayed for a short while to take a few photos, and to shoot some more video ... which later turned out to be so wind-shaken and tormented to be virtually unusable - then headed down in cold pursuit. It was now about 2.30pm.
The wind had been incredible at the summit, reminiscent of the "tempest" which the famous early 19th century English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote about in his poem "On the dark height of Jura":
"Ghosts of the dead! Have I not heard your yelling
Rise on the night-rolling breath of the blast,
When o'er the dark aether the tempest is swelling,
And on eddying whirlwind the thunder-peal passed?
For oft have I stood on the dark height of Jura,
Which frowns on the valley which opens beneath;
Oft have I braved the chill night-tempest's fury,
Whilst around me, I thought, echoed murmurs of death.
And now, whilst the winds of the mountain are howling,
O father! thy voice seems to strike on mine ear;
In air whilst the tide of the night-storm is rolling,
It breaks on the pause of the elements' jar.
On the wings of the whirlwind which roars o'er the mountain
Perhaps rides the ghost of my sire who is dead:
On the mist of the tempest which hangs o'er the fountain,
Whilst a wreath of dark vapour encircles his head."
I soon caught-up with Lis, who was waiting in the sheltered col. We slowly made our way back to the second summit, taking a few more photos along the way. We also surprised a small mob of chamois feeding on the exposed grasses and herbs. Being downwind, we were able to get quite close to them. In all, we saw about half-a-dozen chamois during the walk.
Jura Peaks bagged
- Le Suchet (No. 19) 1588m
- Schlep: To go somewhere far away, usually a difficult destination that takes some toil to reach.
- The Toblerone Line's real name is the Promenthouse Line, named after one of the three rivers along whose course the toblerones run (the others being the Combe and the Sérine). It is an anti-tank line, first built in the 1930s, but reinforced during WW2. In total length about 15 kilometres, the line of 16 tonne, triangular-shaped concrete blocks is more commonly now called the Toblerone Line - in recognition of the similarly-shaped popular Swiss chocolates (which are apparently themselves modelled on the shape of the Matterhorn mountain).
- Percy Shelley wrote "On a dark height of Jura" as part of an epic entitled "St Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian" - which he wrote while at Eton College in about 1810. He visited the Jura twice in the following decade. (See also Le Noirmont).